little over a week ago, when Peter Capaldi was announced as the
twelfth Doctor, there was a lot of celebration and cheering across
Doctor Who fandom. And for
good reason. Capaldi is a brilliant actor, and I have no doubt he
will make an amazing Doctor. However, amidst all the praise and
adulation has been some criticism and negativity. There have even
been some rather baseless and silly criticisms. This isn’t really
anything new. Doctor Who
fans can be hard to please sometimes, and there are typically
vehement complaints with every new Doctor, from Christopher
Eccleston’s leather jacket not being Doctor-ish enough to Matt
Smith being too young—an interesting one given that some people are
now calling Peter Capaldi too old. However, there is one criticism of
Capaldi’s casting that is gaining a fair amount of voice and it’s
actually quite valid.
be fair, it’s not actually a criticism of Peter Capaldi himself,
and I’ll reiterate that I think he’s a great choice for the role.
I’m excited to see his portrayal. Indeed, I can’t wait! The
criticism is directed more towards the process itself and the people
who make the decision, people like Steven Moffat and the other senior
members of the production crew. The simple fact of the matter is that
Peter Capaldi is the twelfth white man in a row to play the role,
thirteenth if you count John Hurt. There has never been a person of
colour in the role or even—gasp!—a woman. And lots of people have noticed.
(Just as a bit of shameless self-promotion, this Jezebel
article on the topic even mentions me by name!)
can almost hear the groans from some people now. Why does it matter
whether Capaldi is white or not? All that matters is whether he’s a
good Doctor. The role should go to the best choice, regardless of the
colour of the actor’s skin. And yes, this is ideally true. And it
really doesn’t matter that Capaldi himself is white. However, what
does matter is that all
the Doctors have been white. If casting were truly colour blind, if
everyone truly had an equal chance and the part always went to the
person best suited for the role, wouldn’t we logically expect a bit
more of a racially diverse group playing the Doctor? It’s simple
statistics. This becomes more and more true the more Doctors there
are, as the sample size becomes larger. The U.K. is a pretty racially
diverse place and there are lots of non-white actors there, but none
of them ever land the role of the Doctor*. Now, to be fair, the
political climate back in the 60’s and 70’s pretty much ensured
that the early Doctors would all be white, but this is the 21st
century now and all four 21st century Doctors (five including Hurt)
have been white. It really is overdue time to get rid of these
ingrained biases that still permeate our lives and media, as this is
a problem that extends well beyond Doctor Who.
important to note that these are generally unconscious biases. I
don’t for one minute believe that Steven Moffat sat down with his
associates and said, “Matt Smith is leaving so we need to pick a
new Doctor, but whoever we pick, he must absolutely be white.” That
would be silly. However, the choice did nevertheless end up going to
a white man, and there wasn’t even an actual audition process this
time. Moffat has said he had Capaldi in mind right from the start.
Capaldi did do an audition, but he was the only one. That audition
was simply so that Moffat could make a tape of the performance and
pass it on to others involved in the decision-making process so that
they could say yes or no. They all said yes. It’s really not that
unusual for actors in television and movies to be chosen without a
full audition process—sometimes parts are even written with a
specific actor in mind—but it is a fairly good demonstration of
bias in motion because when Steven Moffat sat down to think about
what the new Doctor might be like, he probably did what so many other
white male fans would do (and I include myself in that statement): He
imagined a white Doctor. He then thought of an actor who would fit
that imaginary Doctor. Because white is the default in his mind, he
naturally gravitated immediately to a white actor. In this particular
case, no non-white actor even had a chance.
for the possibility of a woman in the role, Moffat himself said,
it's the right decision, maybe we'll do it. It didn't feel right to
me, right now. I didn't feel enough people wanted it. Oddly enough
most people who said they were dead against it—and I know I'll get
into trouble for saying this—were women. [They were] saying, “No,
no, don't make him a woman!”
like that Helen Mirren has been saying the next Doctor should be a
woman. I would like to go on record and say that the Queen should be
played by a man.
are fairly typical defensive responses to being called out on bias,
by placing the responsibility on someone else (in this case, women
fans) or spinning it in such a way as to try to make it sound absurd.
Personally, I know of a lot of fans, both men and women, who would
very much like to see a female Doctor, although admittedly, some of
them (myself included) don’t want to see Moffat writing for her—see
and numerous of my Doctor
for more details about why I feel this way.
makes race or gender bias so insidious is that it’s so often not
done out of any malice. People honestly believe they are making
decisions for the best of reasons and that it’s pure coincidence
that it’s a white man who gets the job. The biases are unconscious
and that leads people to deny they even exist. After all,
acknowledging their existence means having to face up to the racism
and sexism that still permeate modern society. And so, we end up with
one white man after another playing the Doctor. They are all great
choices. They all put their own spin on the Doctor and they are all
entertaining to watch. But the pattern nevertheless is there. Race
and gender biases do exist. There have been countless studies
demonstrating this fact. Here are just two of them: “Scientists not immune from gender bias, Yale study shows”
and “Blind auditions key to hiring musicians”.
even acknowledging that these biases exist, what can Doctor
do about it? For a start, it can do something different and new.
has always been about change. Right from the day William Hartnell’s
Doctor regenerated into Patrick Troughton’s, the show has
constantly reinvented itself. It has taken risks that most other
shows would never dream of. Casting Peter Capaldi does showcase some
of these things. It’s been a long time since there was an older
actor in the role. Indeed, since 2005, the role has been going to
progressively younger actors. Christopher Eccleston was 40 when he
got the role. David Tennant was 34. Matt Smith was only 26. Peter
Capaldi makes a great change from this as it’s a pattern that
really needed breaking—indeed, enough of one that there are people
only familiar with the new series who, until Capaldi’s casting,
honestly believed regeneration was supposed
to make the Doctor younger. But in so many other ways, Peter Capaldi
is still a safe choice. He still fits the mould that fifty years’
worth of Doctors have fit. As Two-Minute Time Lord
puts it, “Looking like an authoritative member of the default
British power structure has been the Doctor's real psychic paper for
50 years now.” It’s time for the show to give us a Doctor we
haven’t seen before, time to give a significant portion of the
audience someone who looks a little more like them. It’s time for a
person of colour or a woman in the role.
some people will say that you can’t hire an actor just because that
actor isn’t white or just because she’s a woman. That would be
just as bad as hiring an actor just because he’s white or just
because he’s a man. And I’m not suggesting it should be done just
because of that. Obviously, the person in question needs to be good
in the role too, but there are actors of colour out there more than
capable of playing the role (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patterson Joseph, and
Idris Elba have all been mooted for the role at one point or
another), and the people doing the casting (like Steven Moffat) need
to be open to the possibility—truly open. The unfortunate fact is
that the first woman or person of colour to play the Doctor will face
accusations of having been chosen only as “stunt casting” or as
an attempt to be “politically correct”. It doesn’t matter what
the real reasons for choosing that person will be; there will be a
few vocal people who will believe those accusations whole-heartedly.
But casting that person will challenge the status quo and once there
has been one, it will be much easier for there to be a second and a
I suppose one
could argue that I am, myself, exhibiting a bias in suggesting this,
and yes, I suppose I am. However, it’s a bias that challenges existing
biases. We can probably never totally eliminate all biases in our
lives, but the only way to minimize bias is to challenge it with
course, I’m not in any way suggesting Peter Capaldi should be
dropped and a woman or person of colour cast in his place. Peter
Capaldi has been chosen. He is
the twelfth Doctor and he will remain so for however long he chooses
to. Once he débuts next year, we can judge him based on his
performance, which as I’ve already state, I’m confident will be
brilliant. However, when Capaldi does decide to move on, perhaps
whoever does the casting then will consider some truly new options.
Yes, I am aware that Neil Gaiman has stated that a black actor was previously offered the part of the Doctor
but turned it down. Because of the timing of this statement, many
people have erroneously concluded that it was for the role of the
twelfth Doctor. Gaiman has since clarified that it was for an earlier Doctor.
This does show that people of colour are not completely out of the
mix when it comes to the role, but it doesn’t change the fact that
the second choice after this unnamed actor was another white guy.
I would argue against the casting of a female Doctor very strenuously.ReplyDelete
Modern Western society recognizes the psychological pain experienced by those who feel they have been born in a body whose assigned sex doesn't match their gender identity and medically supports their efforts to correct the issue. How can the same people who affirm transgender individuals turn around and claim that it doesn't matter whether an established character has a male or female body?
The bloggers at Jezebel are approaching this from an employment-rights angle: Why should female actors be passed over for the lead role? To mix metaphors, they're metagaming instead of using in-character reasoning. There is a HUGE difference between saying that the US ought to have a female president and saying that Barack Obama should have a sex change so that the US has a female president. In that sense, I guess I agree with Steven Moffat's flip remark about the Queen -- except that I don't think it's flip at all.
If Jezebel wants a television show with a female lead dealing with a powerful, intelligent female Time Lord, then they should lobby for a spin-off ("Romana's Adventures in E-Space," for example). The Doctor, as a character, has always identified as a man. To regenerate him into a female body would be a violent imposition, to my mind.
Plus, as much as I love "Coupling," if done under Moffatt, a female Doctor would undoubtedly be portrayed on the slapstick level of imaginary post-sex-change Jeff in "9½ Months." The "I'm aroused by my own breasts" jokes were painful enough to watch for 30 minutes; I absolutely could not take it spread out over a season or more.
I completely agree that a female Doctor should not happen under Steven Moffat. It absolutely would turn into one long joke--think Joanna Lumley's Doctor in "The Curse of Fatal Death" written by none other than Moffat. Yes, that was a comedy parody, but I would fully expect those same jokes to be trotted out repeatedly in Moffat's "serious" Who too.Delete
However, I disagree that the call for a female Doctor (from Jezebel or other sources) is entirely an employment-rights thing. Rather, it's one of representation and inclusion. It's not just representation for women, but also representation for transgender people. True, the Doctor changing from a man to a woman through regeneration isn't exactly the same thing that transgender people go through (since people don't actually regenerate), but there is a similarity. Admittedly, I can't speak personally for the transgender community and how they would react to a female Doctor, but some of the most passionate pleas for a female Doctor that I've read have come from transgender individuals (here is just one that comes up in a quick Google search: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/opinion/diversity-and-doctor-who.html?_r=0). A female Doctor offers transgender people representation in a medium that very rarely even acknowledges they exist. Naturally, it would have to be handled with a certain level of sensitivity (something I don't think Moffat is capable of).
As for Moffat's comment on the Queen, my problem with it is that the Queen and the Doctor are very different people. For a start, one of them is real. I would never expect a program about the life of the queen to cast a man in the role. Nor would I expect a program about the life of Barack Obama to cast anyone other than a black man (preferably someone with some physical resemblance to Obama). However, the Doctor is a fictional alien, capable of completely rearranging his body. If regeneration can change the genes responsible for his height, eye colour, hair colour, etc., why not his sex or skin colour?
All that said, I would be totally behind your suggestion for a Romana spin-off. Romana is one of my all-time favourite companions (rivalled only by Donna and Bernice Summerfield from the novels). I would absolutely love a series about her!
Thanks for the comment!
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